So let’s think about what makes a conversation ‘difficult’? Perhaps it’s because the stakes are high or there are differing viewpoints, maybe strong emotions – but what makes that difficult? It must be to do with what we are telling ourselves before we even begin the conversation. There are a number of common reasons we give ourselves that confirm the conversation is going to be difficult. For example,
Fear – of the other person’s reaction, or our own, or perhaps of opening up a ‘can of worms’ possibly even unrelated to the original topic. We might be fearful of not knowing where the conversation might end, the consequences and possible retribution
Emotion – the physical reaction to the content of the conversation. An example of a potential physical reaction is tears. Generally we’re comfortable with tears of laughter but those tears of pain, hurt or anger are quite another story and more challenging to manage within the parameters of a conversation
Facts – or, more specifically, feeling you might not have all of them necessary to have a robust conversation that concludes well for both parties
Support – is there a danger that your boss or colleagues won’t offer their full support if you go out on a limb and have that conversation?
Of course these are only a few in a rather long list of reasons we give ourselves to justify avoiding the conversation. But what do we miss by not addressing those important issues? In keeping our heads down and working, no time to raise our eyes and look around or to engage in that conversation, or to listen to colleagues, family or friends – what might we be putting at risk? We could be unknowingly causing damage to some of our key relationships. We might be internalising concerns or issues and adversely impacting our own health. We might be losing respect from others for allowing destructive or negative situations to continue. On the other hand, there are many positive opportunities we might be missing in hoping something will just go away without us having to talk about it. Considering those opportunities surely must provide us with the courage to talk. Here are some of those opportunities..
- Showing someone that you value their opinion as much as your own
- Letting someone know that you care about their wellbeing
- Improvement in individual performance from bringing issues into the open and dealing with them
- Positive impact on business performance as a result of building trust through healthy conversation
- Increased self awareness and general boost to confidence and health
- Positive impact on a wider group of people, the rest of the team, enhanced relationships
- Creating a sense of self control
So how do we find the courage needed to begin that conversation? You could ask yourself some questions, for example
what will happen if I don’t have that conversation?
- What are the current effects of that individual’s behaviour/performance/attitude..
- What will happen if there is no change?
- And then what might happen?
- And who else might that affect?
And then ask….
- What’s the real value of addressing this area?
- What is the gain for the individual?
- What is the gain for me and others?
- What will it allow us to do that we currently can’t do?
- Where will the benefits to the individual, team and wider business show?
So, in preparation, be prepared to be honest, always. Relationships can become derailed when people don’t say what they are really thinking or say things which they don’t mean or aren’t true. Be in the room, present and engaged, and expecting to have a meaningful dialogue with another human being. Speak with purpose. Strong conversations have meaning and power, they are robust.
During the conversation ask questions that move the conversation forward. Listen to responses, be thoughtful, and think before speaking. Check understanding and listen clearly to all points of view. Be genuinely prepared to move your position, if only in part. Remember that your version of reality is as good as the next person’s
And finally, ensure learning is at the centre. Through totally attentive listening and being present at all times, learning will occur and bring about a greater depth of understanding, empathy and appreciation of alternate viewpoints. What greater compliment to someone is there than to know they have been listened to… and heard